'It won't be a cakewalk'

Interview Allan Schofield

The 1980 Olympic gold medallist says India need to be on their toes in the qualifiers next month

On the ball: Former Indian goalkeeper Allan Schofield says India need to embrace the changes quickly if they are to stay in the hunt. DH photo/ Srikanta sharma RAllan Schofield thought his life was made when he landed himself a job with the Indian Navy after completing his studies at St Cathedral High School in Bangalore. Little did he imagine that one day he would have a role in the glorious chapters of Indian hockey.

Going through his daily office chores at Mumbai in 1975, Schofield was asked to guard the posts during an inter-club football match. Noticing he had genuine goalkeeping talent, Services inducted him to their national football team. Within months, again by accident, Schofield was asked to be the goalkeeper during a hockey match. He embraced it in quick time before earning a call-up to the Indian national team in 1976.

A part of the star-studded squad that lost the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games final to arch-rivals Pakistan, Schofield entered the hall of fame two years later when the national team captured their eighth Olympic gold medal at the Moscow Games. He was the second goalkeeper in the team, with Bir Bahadur Chhetri being the main custodian.

An MBA graduate settled in Canada, the 52-year-old Schofield, on a Christmas visit to his home town Bangalore, spoke to Deccan Herald about the pride of being an Olympic champion, the current state of affairs and his views to improve Indian hockey.

Excerpts...

How does it feel to be part of the golden generation of Indian hockey?

It makes you feel extremely proud. Those days we played for the nation and with great passion; money was just secondary which we needed to sustain ourselves. When the national anthem was played with the gold hanging around your neck, the feeling was something special. You just forget about everything else in the world. Olympics, by far, is the greatest sporting event in the world and to finish as champions in your respective field is magical. It is extremely sad and depressing to see the current state of affairs.

What factors do you think were vital to the immense success we achieved in the past?

We knew the game in and out, whereas the Europeans were just learning it. We were masters in dribbling, in fact we were complete wizards. Skill, technique, etc we just outdid the Europeans in every department of the game. Pick any position and we had specialists who could do wonders with the ball and on a consistent basis.

What do you think is the reason for our downfall?

A combination of factors. Every game evolves over time and we need to keep pace with the advancements. The biggest problem with us was that we thought we were invincible.

We just stuck to tradition and failed to embrace the changes. By the time we realised our faults, the Europeans and Australians had raced miles ahead. The brilliant part about the Europeans and Australians is that they adapt very quickly, unlike us. Also, administratively a lot of things have gone wrong. Structural planning and execution is very important for success in sports, which is far more competitive than it was during my time. The Australians start their Olympic preparations soon after one ends. We’ve just started last year. Do you think we can compete with them? You saw what happened in the Commonwealth Games.

Your suggestions for the betterment of Indian hockey...

First and foremost, develop the game at the grassroot level. I hail from Bangalore and it pains me to see there are hardly any school-level programmes. Where are the academies? You see the same bunch competing in inter-school tournaments. Get a proper junior-level programme and make sure they graduate to the senior squad in a phased manner.

We also need a coach who can understand the Indian culture which is so diverse. A sardarji’s style of play is so different from a South Indian’s, whose mannerisms are way different from a Mumbaikar. The coach should have the skills to bind the squad into a cohesive unit and I personally feel only an Indian can do it, not a foreigner.

Personally, another thing I would like to be implemented is a proper retirement plan for the players. Agreed the government does take care of many senior players, but there is nothing that helps a player from the age of 35-50. Not many are academically brilliant and they tend to get into depression. There are so many former players who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

How did you feel when we failed to qualify for the Olympics last time?

Miserable and devastated. An Olympic Games without the Indian hockey team, it was an unimaginable situation. Those days, one of the reasons why we were extremely motivated to win was to show the developed world that we too could be champions.

As you are aware, India was considered third world then and looked down upon in many streams. Success was a way of shutting them up and make them take notice of our talent on the global stage. Now although we have advanced economically and excelled in other sports, hockey has taken a plunge. What an irony!

How do you rate our Olympic qualification chances this time around?

It won’t be as easy as many think it would be. Teams like Canada and Italy would be dreaming of beating India and they definitely will go all out as they have nothing to lose.

It will be tough but if we play to our potential we can cross the hurdle. The national game has taken a severe beating in the last two decades and it can’t afford to take another one. I’m sure the players are aware of the magnitude of the task at their hands and I’m confident they’ll do it.

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